See you in December

November 22, 2007 at 9:00 pm (Doing)

Ink & Keys is off on a well deserved holiday!  I promise to blog lots of exciting things on my return…


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My new favourite bookshop

November 19, 2007 at 9:30 pm (Reading, Seeing) (, , , )

Currently, I am mostly in love with Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street.

It’s fairly close to where I work so I’ve been popping in and adoring the fantastic interior, which really gives it a fantastic atmosphere.

When I needed a guidebook for Prague last week, I thought “I know – Daunt Books!”  and off I trotted.   What I didn’t realise is that Daunt Books, along with a gorgeous spread of fiction and literary non-fiction, is specifically designed with travellers in mind.  Not only does it have a comprehensive selection of guides for each country, but indigenous literature is shelved in the same section!  Had this not been the case, I probably would never have discovered Bohumil Hrabal, which would have been a damned shame.  Browsing the bookshop’s country by country section is like a fantastic little adventure.  I’ve never really thought “I think I need a novel by a Romanian author this week”, but it is definitely a refreshing way to choose literature.

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Indies vs chains

November 17, 2007 at 5:37 pm (Doing, Publishing, Reading, Seeing) (, , )

I recently made a pledge to myself that I was no longer going to buy from bookshop chains and, instead, I would do my little bit to support indies and secondhand bookshops.  Living in London, this is not a hard thing to do – I have already found a fabulous indie that I’ve fallen in love with and I spent this morning in and out of the secondhand bookshops on Charing Cross Road.  Books are the driving force in these shops and the atmosphere that they create is fantastic.

I’ve never really liked Waterstone’s and, despite having worked in one during my MA, I’m not a big fan of Borders, either.  I find these chains terribly sterile and loaded with crap like book lights, Japanese-gardens-in-a-box, and nodding alien things rather than literature.  The thought of buying books from Tesco or Asda frankly makes my skin crawl – “Oh, I’ll have some onions, Quorn sausages, shampoo, and, yes, the new Charles Frazier, please.”  I understand what attracts people to these chains; it’s the cheap prices and reassuring uniformity.  Luckily, none of the books that I would consider buying are ever in the ‘buy for a fraction of the price ensuring that no one except the store makes any money’ offers, so I can trot down to my gorgeous, full-price indie without my wallet protesting that I’m forgoing a bargain.

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Never judge a book by its cover

November 15, 2007 at 11:04 pm (Seeing) (, )

I’ve spent many a lunch hour mooning over the Penguin Celebrations covers in my local bookshop. There’s something so appealing and naive about the classic covers; they seem to say ‘this book is so fantastic that it doesn’t even need a picture to tell you what it’s about’. Like a tiny little mystery waiting to be solved. You can also colour code your bookshelf 😉

There’s nothing naive about the shrewd marketing ploy that is these yummy accessories, though. Like all successful icons, they communicate what they’re all about in a single glance. ‘I love Virginia Woolf so much that I use her book cover to wash up – I’m that literary’.

It’s all about image, of course; just because we like books doesn’t mean we’re not vain and self-conscious. We want people to know that we like books and that we’re cool, sophisticated, and clever because of it. How better to prove that than by drinking out of 1984?

Or carrying your latest read around in Lawrence? Carrying Lawrence around in Lawrence is a bit like a twin set, though. Make sure you mix it up a bit.



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Which one of your friends is this?

November 13, 2007 at 9:49 pm (Writing) (, , )

When I was at university, I had a fiction tutor who subscribed wholeheartedly to the ‘write what you know’ school of literature.  So far did she take this mantra that she had had (fruitless) legal action brought against her for relying too heavily on descriptions of a previous employer in her first novel.  Whenever we discussed character in a student’s work, her first question was always “Which of your friends is this?”  She always looked sceptical when the reply came “None of them – it’s a character.”

I felt uneasy during these seminars.  On the one hand, my 19 year old self thought that I must be doing something drastically wrong if a published novelist peopled all her work with characters from her life and I didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t.  On the flip side, the idea of using my friends, family, and acquaintances in my fiction felt kind of dirty – as if I was stealing their underwear or something.  I did not subscribe to the underwear-stealing school of fiction.  Towards the end of my third year, thoroughly aware that said tutor would be marking the module submissions, I wrote two series of prose poems that did draw very heavily upon my experiences and the people I knew.  One was set at a student house party and the characters were very obviously my friends; I felt constricted as I wrote, terrified a) that my friends would recognise themselves and be offended by my portrayals and b) that I couldn’t change reality if I was using real people.  This latter fear was, of course, silly – I wasn’t a historical biographer, adhering ardently to the facts; real life people can be a launch pad for fictional characters that end up coming wholly into their own.  At the time, though, it just didn’t seem right.

The second series of prose poems was about my mother.  Again with the dirty feeling – I felt like I had violated my relationship with my mother by using certain details in order to get my degree.  The course tutor raved about these pieces, giving me a ludicrously high mark.  The second marker thought them fairly ordinary – that’s the subjectiveness of a creative writing degree, I guess.  I’ve sat on this piece ever since, knowing that I could never attempt to get it published.  It served its purpose, within the safe bubble of academia, and showed me very clearly where my borrowing-from-life boundaries lie.

Like most writing debates, there is no right or wrong answer to this little puzzler.  How much a writer draws upon their own experiences and real world cast is entirely dependent upon their style, influences, purposes, etc.  Anthony Burgess wrote from his own traumatic experiences and created a terrifying but unnervingly recognisable future world, acting out a disturbing revenge upon those that had caused him pain that he couldn’t inflict in ‘real life’.  Kazuo Ishiguro, of Japanese heritage but raised in England, writes from both inside and outside both cultures.  Literature would definitely be poorer without his particular insight, but does he ever feel that he is betraying his heritage by writing about it?  What do Margaret Atwood and Philip K. Dick borrow from their surroundings to create their dystopian worlds?

Ten thousand words  into the novel that I’m currently writing, I don’t feel that there’s anything of myself, my friends, or anybody else I know in it.  I do feel, however, that it’s shaping up to be my most successful piece of writing so far.  I’ll let you know if either view changes.

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Nanowing away

November 11, 2007 at 8:03 pm (Writing) ()

Yep, I’m a nanower. It’s my first time this year, and I’m not at all on target. Pop over here to find out just how far behind I actually am…

Busy as my November is, I never expected to get 50,000 words out of the experience, but I think that I’m writing more than I would have done without the incentive of attempting to reach that goal. I’d much rather get to 30th November with 10,000 words that could be the seeds of a novel than 50,000 words that will lie forgotten at the bottom of a desk drawer.

I think that the root of my lack of speed is that I tend to edit before any words actually hit the page. I sit and mull over each sentence in my head before committing it to paper/the screen, meaning that I’m quite chuffed if my wordcount hits 1,000 in any given evening. That’s not to say that those 1,000 words are perfect mini works of genius, requiring not a jot of editing, of course, but speed really isn’t my strongest asset!

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Reading this week

November 9, 2007 at 8:51 pm (Reading) (, , )

This week, I have managed to get hold of two books that I’m very excited about. The first is Lloyd Jones’ Booker shortlisted Mister Pip, which I’m saving for a gorgeous uninterrupted Saturday.

The second is Siri Hustvedt’s The Sorrows of an American, out in hardback in May next year. This book is just beautiful. I’m halfway through and I’m torn between wanting to read it every second of the day (to the point that I was reading it in one hand while I stirred paesotto for dinner last night) and never wanting it to end. I think what I love about the novel is that it’s so flawed – the characters, whilst being achingly human in their reactions and thoughts, just don’t speak like real people. The dialogue is stilted and the narrative voice is unrealistic, but this just adds to the characterisation of beautiful, intelligent, damaged individuals. I also love the envious glances that I’m receiving on the tube as people notice what I’m reading…

I’d love to hear what you’re reading.

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November 9, 2007 at 8:51 pm (Doing) (, , )


This is the first post, so I should explain a bit about myself. I’m a 25-year old writer/reader/publisher, as in I work in publishing, I write, and I read a lot. I have a degree in Creative Writing, which seems not to have much application in the real world but has made me infinitely happier than a more conventional degree in business or psychology ever could. And, lifting myself up onto my soapbox here, I really believe that literature has an important part to play in modern society.

This is where I write:

This is where I read:

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